Planners say thumbs down to battery storage project
VC Community Planning Group (VCCPG) Monday voted to oppose a large lithium-ion battery storage project dubbed Valley Center Storage; to endorse Green Storage, an expansion of an existing facility on Lizard Rocks Road; and to endorse evacuating a county easement that had attracted the attention and opposition of the Valley Center Trails Assn.
The two storage projects are unrelated. One would store enough electricity to power much of the region for several hours, and the other is an expansion of a storage facility.
The meeting was a Zoom meeting, plagued with technological burps and the occasional disappearance of a speaker for a few moments.
Lilac Hills Ranch update
Planner Steve Hutchinson gave the post mortem on the June 24, 4-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors to reject Lilac Hills Ranch. Given LHR’s track record of bouncing back after defeat, it’s unwise to completely write it off, but Hutchinson phrased it, “The project is dead as far as we know now, except if they want to start again from square one. After more than ten years back and forth it has come to an end. The density remains at 110 homes.”
Although the Planning Commission supported LHR, it crashed on the rocks of “fire safety and emergency evacuations considerations upset the project,” said Hutchinson.
Fifth District Supervisor Jim Desmond lost the vote. He did not support the project as proposed, but opposed rejecting LHR without a chance for the developer to make changes to the fire safety evacuation plan.
Valley Center Storage
Planners were alarmed by potential safety issues, specifically fire, related to the battery storage facility, previously the Terra Gen Battery Storage before being renamed the less descriptive Valley Center Storage.
Mark Turner, representing the developer, appeared for the third time before the group. He was buffeted by questions and accusations about the technology’s safety record, and tendency to catch fire and pose a hazard for firefighters.
The project was submitted to the County in April and its EIR went for public comment on June 25— a 45-day period.
The $40 million lithium-ion based battery energy storage facility on nearly nine acres could deliver up to 140 megawatts (MW) for about four hours. It would interconnect to the adjacent San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) 69kV Valley Center Substation.
The array would include four battery enclosures (each 31.6 feet long by 5.7 feet wide by 8.6 feet high) housing the integrated Battery Energy Storage System (BESS.) They would be charged from the grid and discharge back into the grid.
Turner took the project to the Design Review Board which unanimously supported it.
He also worked with VC Fire Marshal Jim Davidson: “They’ve reviewed and approved the documents relevant to their purpose keeping the community safe.” Turner said he reached out to anyone including PG critic Dr. Matt Matthews—the planner assigned the project.
Besides the $40 million in construction, and taxes from that, “There’s about $253,000 a year in property taxes for the region,” said Turner. “This region is particularly in need of that type of resource because of the retirement of existing generation facilities. He added, “California cannot reach its goal of a zero carbon future in 2045 without battery storage to store renewable energy and deliver it when the renewable energy isn’t available.”
Speaking against was VC resident Cathy Baur, who said, “Placing the storage facility in Valley Center would create unacceptable risks for our community. One associated with these battery storage facilities is what is called thermal runaway. The systems are susceptible to rapid uncontrolled overheating. It’s a cycle in which excessive heat keeps creating more heat and at high temperature gas builds up —creating the potential for explosion and the release of toxic gases.”
This is not theory, said Baur. “They have unfortunately been a reality at numerous facilities. Just last year there was an explosion in Arizona that injured four firefighters and resulted in Arizona Public Service shutting down two other facilities.”
She added, “The problem is not limited to Arizona—Hawaii’s had at least two fires and lithium ion batteries caused more than 20 storage complex fires in South Korea in the last three years alone.”
She described the fires as “very intense and difficult to control. They can take days or even weeks to extinguish properly and can ignite or reignite days or weeks after they are thought extinguished.”
They can be very dangerous for firefighters. “In addition to the immediate fire and electricity risk they may have to deal with toxic fumes, exposure to hazardous materials and building decontamination issues,” she said. She posed this scenario: “Imagine what might happen in our community if an explosion occurred during a Santa Ana. Imagine the devastation.”
Describing energy storage as in its early stages, she asked, “Is that what we want for Valley Center; to be a Guinea pig for one of these unmanned battery storage facilities?”
Dr. Matthews added, “A project of this scope goes way beyond what VC could possibly benefit from—absorbing the risk countywide and placing it in our local community here.”
At Dr. Matthews’s invitation former VC resident John Corley, who owns property next to the SDG&E switching station spoke about his own, much smaller proposed battery storage facility. Born and raised in VC, he lives in Yuma, Arizona now although his parents are buried in VC Cemetery.
Corley had contacted members over the weekend. “I know I’m coming in the 11th hour but my project basically was on the fast track until Terra Gen came was put ahead of the line. Their project is so massive in scale it’s more appropriate for the city of Escondido.”
His proposed storage facility would be 10 MW, as opposed to 140 MW. “It will consist of ten to 20 enclosed battery containers similar to 40 foot shipping containers that is more suitable for Valley Center’s needs.”